By Ben Durham
In his current exhibition “Dress Socks and Other Diversions” at Institute 193, Mike Goodlett presents three striking new bodies of work that address issues of representation, figuration, and desire. In Goodlett’s work art functions as a distorted mirror image of our social selves; our social interactions, frustrations, and desires are reflected back as dream-like manifestations. His mimetic representation is not illustrative of physical likeness or real-world phenomena, but is instead a representation of social and emotional behavior and desire itself.
In his recent body of Sewn Drawings, Goodlett’s threadwork binds his drawn forms together, functioning as net-like enclosures capturing and displaying odd moments of apparent bodily interaction. In Goodlett’s presentation, desire is anthropomorphized into organic forms, creatures even, as his playful titles seem to suggest. There is a distinct scientific methodology to this approach that brings to mind the studies of Alfred Kinsey, the botanical illustrations of Carl Linnaeus, and the anthropomorphic nature films of Jean Painlevé. From the Sewn Drawings to the wall-sized installation of a dissected and sewn back together figure, the body is depicted through an often-nightmarish lens of desire. Desire here is an obfuscating force, confusing and clouding our view of reality. To this end, Goodlett’s practice seeks a breaking down of differentiation. Diverse forms blend to describe a basic human desire to lose our isolated sense of self, our sense of separateness, and gain some sort of connection.
Immediately one is struck by the unique and nuanced qualities of Goodlett’s draftsmanship and use of material. With both ink and graphite he achieves a balance between Rembrandt’s refined sfumato and a doodler’s phone-side drawing pad. He references the deconstructed comic book imagery notable in the work of Raymond Pettibon, Philip Guston, and Tom of Finland while maintaining an outsider’s sense of distinctly individual style. Graphite depictions of ethereal and surprisingly sensual cigarette smoke, drawings of morphed bodily forms in red Bic pen, and sewn elements referencing fetishized dress socks (or stockings if you prefer) demand a level of careful scrutiny and invested examination that allows the viewer to enter the complex visual world created by Goodlett. Far more than most contemporary artists, he presents an almost awkwardly sincere perspective of the world that renders him vulnerable and very much on view. Although his works do not function as self-portraiture, they are clearly projections of self.
The work at Institute 193 maintains a balance of raw emotion and fluid elegance that mark this as one of Lexington’s most dynamic and significant shows in recent memory. Despite the works’ personal and almost intimate nature, the show succeeds in connecting and communicating with a world outside of its own. Much like Goodlett’s previous Shadow Box works, there remains a distinct dynamic between outer and inner worlds, but the striking beauty of his recent work serves as a thoughtful invitation. In this way, “Dress Socks and Other Diversions” is a welcoming introduction and, for those already familiar with his drawings, installations, and shadow boxes, it is a revealing glimpse further into the depths of Mike Goodlett’s biomorphic world.
“Dress Socks and Other Diversions” remains on view at Institute 193 until November 26th. For more information including gallery location and hours, visit www.institute193.org